Our calendar presently reads
Two years. One hundred and four weeks. Seven hundred and thirty days. Seventeen thousand five hundred and twenty hours. A stint in Peace Corps may feel like a decade to some or like a week to others. In our case, I would say two years in
Whether one is sharing a bathroom with former prostitutes and addicts or relocating to a remote South Pacific island, everything seems normal after a year or two. You get used to people showering and dancing in the rain. You get used to hurling banana peels and old leftovers toward the pigs out back. You get used to stepping over coconut husks and bananas every single day. When I spent a month in
Now that our countdown calendar is registering just over six weeks, I’ve started trying to reflect on the things I’ve learned while being here. There are the obvious things: how to dance Tongan style, how to speak a language spoken by only 100,000 of the world’s inhabitants, how to make a raw fish salad, how to get to the outhouse and back during a cyclone without getting soaked. But there are also a lot of intangible lessons that will serve me well outside the South Pacific. Here are a few:
- I’ve learned how easy it is not to appreciate what you have. We see this in the Tongans as they make the awkward adjustment to a consumer-based society, and we see it in ourselves as we overlook the spectacular views available just a block from our house.
- I’ve learned how easy it is to develop tunnel-vision, and how quickly that tunnel-vision can lead to feeling stressed. My first year and a half here was overly stressful because I couldn’t slow down enough to move at the pace of Tongan society. Cliff and I worked together to adjust that attitude, and now I’m pretty good at the Tongan malolo (restful) style.
- I appreciate families and the support system they provide more. There are no homeless people in Tonga, no orphans, and no one goes hungry. The extended family works together to care for each other. Being away from our families has made us miss them, and watching Tongan families together has made us appreciate more all the things our own parents and grandparents have done for us.
It is impossible to condense two years of unique experiences into a few simple lessons; the few I’ve listed above barely scratch the surface of all that could be said. As we expected when we signed up for the Peace Corps, our two years of service was not easy and wasn’t always fun, but it was very good for us, and perhaps useful to the Tongans around us as well.
Up next…Around The World:
There are two main options regarding travel home. We could just fly direct from Tongatapu to
After our around-the-world travels, our immediate plan is to sleep and eat well for a few days. After that, though, I’m afraid we’re going to have to settle down a bit. Cliff, who graduated from college in 1999 and has yet to have a salaried job, will start interviewing for social work positions in the Chicago area. (After, of course, he has recovered from his hip surgery.) I will return to work at World Vision, with much the same job as before. (Conveniently, the woman who took my position when I left is leaving World Vision in June, and my boss is willing to hold the job for me until mid-August.)
We hope to buy a used car shortly after returning to the Midwest and to find an apartment (possibly on the north-west or south-west sides of the city) as quickly as possible. During our time in Tonga we’ve both developed a long list of to-do items that we’re eager to tackle once we’re back in the city. These include using our new biking skills on the paths along the lake; improving our Spanish-speaking skills; publishing some of the short stories and plays we’ve written while here; and make frequent visits to movie theaters, supermarkets, the Chicago public library, and the houses of family and friends.